Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for Aug. 23-31

August 23 – August 31


WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (August 25, 2:30 am): This 1957 film, directed by Billy Wilder, is one of the absolute best suspense movies you'll ever see. The story takes many interesting twists and the acting is outstanding, particularly Charles Laughton as an ill, but still brilliant, barrister who takes the case of a man, played by Tyrone Power in his last role, charged with murder. All of the evidence points to Power's character, Leonard Vole, as the killer, but Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) can't resist defending him. Things take a turn for the worse - or maybe it doesn't - when Vole's wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, is called as a witness for the prosecution. The ending is so unexpected and executed exceptionally well by all parties involved in the film. It is a shock - heightened by the closing credits asking moviegoers to not reveal the ending to anyone who hasn't seen it. 

BALL OF FIRE (August 26, 8:00 pm): Think of this film as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs if Snow White was a hot nightclub performer, played by Barbara Stanwyck, hiding from the police and her mob boyfriend, and the dwarfs were brilliant but eccentric professors putting together an encyclopedia about everything. Director Howard Hawks - with the assistance of Billy Wilder, who co-wrote the screenplay from a short story he wrote - does a great job blending the two worlds together to make an outstanding romantic comedy. The main professor, Bertram Potts (played by Gary Cooper), is focusing his work on American slang. The slang of 1941 is dated, but the scenes that have Potts learning the slang words of the day from Stanwyck's character, Sugarpuss, are hysterical with Cooper doing an excellent job as the straight man. Also of note are the wonderful acting performances of the other professors, all who are considerably older than Potts. It's a funny, entertaining film that leaves the viewer with a smile on his/her face for most of the movie. After the first time I saw it, I thought to myself, "That was great." It still is.


HITLER’S MADMAN (August 28, 6:00 am): This is being shown on the day devoted to the films of Ava Gardner, and looking at the time it’s airing, one can safely say that it’s not one of Gardner’s more sterling outings. Actually, it was made during her early days in Hollywood when MGM loaned her out to get experience. She made this film for Poverty Row studio PRC, which, except for Sam Katzman’s Banner Pictures, was the bottom of the Hollywood barrel. This is the story of the assassination of Nazi Chief Reinhard Heydrich by Czech freedom fighters, but a number of things raise it from the usual level of PRC product. One is that it was the first directorial effort by German expatriate Douglas Sirk, who imbues it with a polish not seen in PRC films. Two, it contains an outstanding performance by John Carradine as Heydrich. And finally, the film is not only enjoyably watchable as such, but it’s actually good. So good, in fact, that PRC sold it to MGM for distribution. I recommend this not only on its virtues, but also as an example that Poverty Row surroundings do not necessarily have to result in a Poverty Row product. Sure, it looks cheap, but watch it and feel yourself become entranced by the production.

THREE ON A MATCH (August 30, 1:00 p.m.): It’s Warren William Day on TMC and there is no film he made during the ‘30s that’s more powerful or shocking than this Pre-Code effort. It’s the story of three childhood friends (Joan Blondell, Bette Davis, and Ann Dvorak) and the progress of their lives. Dvorak’s character turns out the best financially, but then her luck suddenly turns and she sinks into a live of debauchery, drink and drugs. The movie is startlingly frank and Dvorak wakes up too late to save herself but sacrifices herself for her child in a most dramatic way. Look for Humphrey Bogart in a small role as a thug.

WE DISAGREE ON ...  ROLLERBALL (August 31, 8:00 pm)

DAVID: B+. I admit it - I'm a sucker for early to mid-1970s futuristic dystopian films such as The Omega ManLogan's Run and Rollerball. The latter, from 1975, is about the not-to-distant future of 2018 in which corporations control the world. They certainly got that one correct. In 2018, Rollerball, a version of roller derby with considerably more violence, is the king of sports. It's also society's replacement for war - a nice gesture. The biggest problem is it's also replaced individualism. And that's the problem facing Jonathan E (played by James Caan). He is the greatest Rollerball player of all-time with fans chanting his name. To corporate executives (the key executive is magnificently played by John Houseman), this is a huge problem as the game is designed to stifle individualism (do I sound like Ayn Rand?), and Jonathan is making that difficult. Jonathan won't retire so the corporations make the game more violent, including having the title game be a battle to the death. The action in the film is top-notch, particularly the championship match. Rollerball is much more than a futuristic action film. It's a movie that captures the challenges of being your own person in a structured world that frowns on standing out, especially if it upsets or disturbs society and its norms.

ED: CI remember seeing this in the theater, being sucked in by the terrific commercials. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered this "action" film actually moved at a snail's pace with its sub-plot of corporate totalitarianism. What it really needed to be was just a simple film about how one man rebels against the corporate status quo. What we get instead is a ponderous, pretentious attempt at a "thinking man's film" without much thinking going into it, the rest being covered with heavy-handed symbolism. James Caan delivers "impassioned" lines as if he was hit over the head with a mallet, and Maud Adams sounds if she studied at the school of cardboard acting. The movie needs an impassioned hero, someone like Mel Gibson or Al Pacino. What it gets is an actor who is best suited to a supporting role and needs to be killed off halfway through the picture. John Houseman is . . .well, John Houseman, and he is the only good things about the film besides the game of Rollerball itself, which is a great concept, but poorly executed. And that is precisely the problem with this film: it's one thing to let your audience figure out the plot from clues and actions, but quite another to present a half-baked story that in the end really doesn't make any sense. Finally, the movie doesn't age well. We're supposed to think it's 2018, but everything in the film screams 1975. Along with Logan's Run, it's the worst of the 70's sci-fi movies.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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